"I can't even sit on my porch; I'm afraid to go up the street after dark to get a sandwich," said one man, who lives a few doors down from Sean and said he often saw him walk by in his football uniform. "I'm 50 years old, and I've lived here for 45 years, and I've never seen anything like what's been going on around here lately."
A 53-year-old lifelong resident of the neighborhood said he has a 17-year-old and an 18-year-old at home.
"First you look around for your kids" when you hear shots fired, he said, emphasizing that not all youths in the community are troubled. Most of the homes in the area are inhabited — unlike the vast swaths of vacant properties that blight many parts of the city — and residents sit out on their porches.
"A lot of the kids are going to college around here," the resident said.
Bell, who has been principal at Montebello for six years, said students have grappled with their share of tragedies. Last year, they lost Destinee Alicia Parker to the H1N1 virus, the first student to die of the flu strain in Maryland.
The experience prepared Bell to respond to another tragedy, she said, but not for the possibility of losing another student.
"Nothing prepares you for this. Ever," she said.
After Destinee's death, Bell said, she was devastated to the point where "I couldn't talk about it, didn't talk about for a long time."
Sean's case is stirring different emotions, she said. "I have to talk about it because this situation is ridiculous to me. I don't understand why we just can't get along. Why do we shoot each other? Why? Why? Why?"
Other city schools have been helping students come to grips with the loss of classmates recently. Dashawn Brown, a 17-year-old junior at Carver Vocational-Technical High School who was enrolled in a carpentry program, was fatally stabbed Sunday; and Marcus Nickens Jr., a 19-year-old junior at Southside Academy, was shot to death May 19.
And on May 20, Lishinia Miller, 17, a senior at Excel Academy at Frances M. Wood High School, died when a stolen vehicle in which she was a passenger crashed into a tree on Belair Road.
City school officials have deployed crisis teams, which include psychologists, social workers and counselors.
"Losing young lives that are so full of potential through an accident is bad enough, but the violence compounds that heartbreak. We've got to find a way" to stop it, said Jonathan Brice, executive director of school support and safety for the school system.
Officials have highlighted reductions in the number of juvenile victims in recent years, a collaborative effort among several state and city agencies. Since 2006, the number of children killed in the city has dropped by 80 percent, as the city has celebrated a historically low dropout rate of 4 percent and a record 66 percent graduation rate.
"We have all of these activities that are happening in the next two weeks, awards ceremony, a fashion show. … I would hate to put a funeral in there," Bell said. "But right now, I'm just praying that as a community, as a city, we come up with a way to save our children."
Baltimore Sun reporters Jessica Anderson, Yeganeh June Torbati and Julie Scharper contributed to this article.